Take One: Blue Monk
Blue Monk's mussels steamed in Ommegang Witte with lemon and cream
Between gorgeous goblets of beer, posters of pink elephants, and a menu that includes duck frites and beer-steamed mussels, it’s safe to say Blue Monk is officially Elmwood’s hippest new watering hole. A Belgian-themed gastropub serving a wide selection of arcane imported beers (as well as several outstanding locally brewed beers) and European-inspired fare, the new bar at Elmwood and Breckenridge has discovered a unique niche in Buffalo’s varied restaurant scene.
“Buffalo seemed ripe for the gastropub/Belgian beer bar concept,” explains owner Mike Shatzel, known to Buffalo beer drinkers as the owner of microbrew-mecca Cole’s. “I liked what [Allen Street] Hardware was doing and thought a much larger emphasis on high-end European drafts would do great. Also, at Cole’s I would notice the high-end beer connoisseurs would be around during the week but absent on the weekends due to the crowds. So I decided to make Blue Monk a destination for [that] crowd.”
Blue Monk’s thirty taps and extensive bottle list ensures something for everyone from the novice beer enthusiast to the seasoned craft beer geek. (There’s even Labatt Blue on the menu, though it’s under the “If You Must…” category.) Imported selections such as Cantillon Iris, Urthel Hop-It, and Delirium Tremens allow patrons to sample the finest and most legendary brews Belgium has to offer, while selections from the rest of Europe, the American West Coast, and even Japan provide constant variety. It’s a great place to try uniquely Belgian styles such as geuze, a wild-yeast-fermented blend of new and old lambic beers that produces a distinctly sour and intensely earthy character.
Several New York beers, particularly Belgian-style ales from Cooperstown-based Brewery Ommegang, round out the list with outstanding options for drinking local. “Flying Bison Rusty Chain and the Southern Tier Unearthly IPA are selling fairly well,” says Shatzel, “but the Ommegang beers seem to be selling very fast, especially the Witte.” This combination of great locally made brews and gems from the far corners of the world—rotated on an ever-changing list—assures no risk of boredom for beer lovers.
A selection of Blue Monk's craft beers. Image by kc Kratt.
Knock back a few of these typically high-alcohol beers and you’ll need some food to stay on your barstool. Fortunately, Blue Monk’s kitchen opened in the bar’s second week of business with a creative and fun Belgian bistro-inspired menu featuring mussels, a charcuterie plate, and duck frites. An opening night dinner of mussels with leeks, bacon and gorgonzola, and a cheese plate featuring fig puree and warm sliced bread—washed down with a goblet of the Belgian IPA Urthel Hop-It—truly hit the spot; it’s comfort food with style, perfectly suited to absorbing the complex flavors of Belgium’s wacky beers.
Now, with kinks ironed out and service perfected, Blue Monk packs a punch that matches its hype. A recent trip removed any doubt regarding the pub’s ability to exceed sky-high expectations.
The initial task of selecting a beer from the ever-fluctuating list is daunting even for this beer-savvy writer, and with one member of my party completely unfamiliar with the selections on the list, we welcomed the assistance of our server. Charming and knowledgeable, she was a wealth of pairing suggestions and recommendations, advocating for the seemingly impossible pairing of black truffle-poached sea scallops with risotto (a daily special) and Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Stout. It was in fact outstanding; the roasty, bitter stout cut right through the buttery spinach risotto and incredibly tender scallops.
I started with the amusingly yet aptly titled Blue Balls, an appetizer-sized order of meatballs with gravy and giant crumbles of bleu cheese. The smoky meat, creamy gravy, and sharp, funky cheese were an outstanding match for my Emelisse Belgian Tripel IPA, a hoppy yet elegant ale that played beautifully against the richness of the dish. Like most of Blue Monk’s menu items, this appetizer proved an excellent example of my long-standing opinion that there are certain foods that simply must be paired with beer rather than wine.
My entrée, the Blue Monk burger, was cooked to an impeccable medium—a surprisingly rare feat, I’ve found, in the pub world. It was as pink in the middle as is socially acceptable with melt-in-your-mouth juiciness and wonderful flavor from the cooked onions and blue cheese stuffed under the bun and held in place with a pepperoncini-and-olive-laden toothpick. Though the bun was a touch uninspired, its contents simply burst with flavor.
A side of duck frites, with which I was given a choice of several enticing dips, accompanied my burger. I chose the roasted garlic and sea salt dip and was not disappointed. Though the frites on their own were a touch greasy (perhaps a necessary evil when working with duck fat), they acted as the perfect vehicle for the sharp, mayonnaise-based dip.
Two dessert options, a pear tart and a flourless chocolate cake, sounded equally appropriate for my second beer, a Grimbergen dubbel which came in a lovely, wide Trappist goblet and offered rich toffee and hazelnut malt flavors. Unable to choose, we ordered both. Though the cake, dense in the middle and garnished with an incredibly buttery chocolate icing, was outstanding with my rich, sweet dubbel, it demanded the beer rather than complemented it.
The tart was another story. Its filling boasted a fierce zing of amaretto and a base note of vanilla bean, singing in perfect harmony with the fresh and firm pear sliced beautifully on top and the delicate butter crust underneath. The nutty notes in the tart brought out fruity esters in the beer for a truly perfect pairing that satisfied like few desserts I’ve experienced.
The pub avoids any sense of snobbery, appealing to beer geeks and newbies alike. “I imagine the regular crowd to be beer enthusiasts, people adventuresome for new things, and a lot of neighborhood residents,” Shatzel observes. “The community seems to have accepted us with open arms.” With its unique menu, ideal location, and unmatched beer selection, Blue Monk is well positioned to hold its own in the Buffalo scene.
727 Elmwood Ave.